Malawi Government Suspends Anti-Gay Laws

by Jason St. Amand

National News Editor

Wednesday November 7, 2012

Malawi's government announced this week that it is suspending laws that ban homosexuality in the African country, while officials vote on whether to repeal them, CNN reports.

Gay men and woman in Malawi, a landlocked country in southeast Africa that is bordered by Zambia and Mozambique, are prohibited from getting married or entering into any kind of relationship, thanks to the country's anti-gay laws. Consensual homosexual acts are punishable by law and individuals can be sentenced up to 14 years in prison or receive corporal punishment.

Malawi's justice minister said the laws are currently suspended and police are not allowed to arrest or prosecute members of the LGBT community until the country's parliament votes whether to repeal the controversial laws, according to a statement by Amnesty International, an international human rights organization.

"Amnesty International welcomes Minister (Ralph) Kasambara's statement and hopes it serves as the first step toward ending discrimination and persecution based on real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity in Malawi," Noel Kututwa, the rights group's director for southern Africa, said.

Two years ago, Malawi was under fire when two men were arrested for getting married, the Associated Press reports. The men, however, were later pardoned after activists from around the world criticized the country's actions. The country's former president, Bingu wa Mutharika who died in office in April, said he pardoned them on "humanitarian grounds only" and insisted they "committed a crime against our culture, against our religion and against our laws."

But earlier this year, Malawi's president, Joyce Banda, vowed she would repeal the laws that ban homosexual acts, AP noted.

Additionally, Madonna has attempted to do charity work in Malawi by building 10 new schools in the country. But officials attacked the pop queen, who adopted two children from the country, after she stopped plans to build a girls academy a year ago, the Guardian reported.

Malawi isn't the only African country that bans gay rights and punishes members of the LGBT community. Several nations in Africa offer little or no rights and some gay men and woman can even be sentenced to life in prison or death, EDGE reported.

In February, Uganda's parliament reintroduced a bill that called for the death penalty to anyone who engaged in conceptual same-sex activities. The country's government, however, did not support the measure.

"As a parliamentary democracy the process of debate will continue," a government statement said. "Whilst the government of Uganda does not support this bill, it is required under our constitution to facilitate this debate. The facilitation of this debate should not be confused for the government's support for this bill."

But more recently, the country has been showing some progress when it comes to gay rights as Uganda's LGBT community held its first Gay Pride Parade in August, EDGE noted. AP points out in a March article that support for gay rights may have increased as more people attended a rally against gender-based violence led by a gay advocacy group.

Gambia is another country that has not budged on gay rights as the country's president Yahya Jammeh said he would never accept homosexuality.

"We know what human rights are. Human beings of the same sex cannot marry or date," Jammeh said while swearing in 15 ministers of his new government. "If you think it is human rights to destroy our culture, you are making a great mistake because if you are in the Gambia, you are in the wrong place then," he added.

In 2008 he threatened Gambia's gay men and ordered them to leave the country or he would "cut off their head." Just last month, Jammeh made claims that he cured several patients suffering from HIV and AIDS with a concoction of herbs, EDGE reported.